3.03.2008

Writing Process--Rising Action

I'm reading High Rise, an interesting social criticism of both 20th century technology and the economic division of the white collar populations that often populate the urban core. J.G. Ballard is a pretty tremendous writer. I find it very interesting that his prose is so (comparatively) void of dialogue. He's clearly telling much more in this story than he is showing, but the result is marvelous. The first nine chapters are told from three perspectives.

The first three chapters focus on Robert Laing, a slacking physician from the middle class of the building. The second three chapters follow Richard Wilder, a filmmaker from the lower class. The next three chapters follow Arthur Royal, the architect that lives in the penthouse atop the monstrous condominium. Royal develops a God-complex as things begin to devolve around him, and the novel is steering toward a violent climax.

One of the things I've taken great note of in the last two-three years is the moment the action begins its upward tick (exposition, complication, crisis, climax, resolution). I like to take note of the page number when things seem to really begin moving in the story's central conflict. In this tale, it happens on page 33, but take a look at this opening sentence if you want a feel for the urgency Ballard instills in this yarn from the outset:

Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.

The chapters are divided by scene-contained vignettes. On page 33 Ballard writes:

Like himself, Charlotte was waiting for something to happen.

They did not have long to wait. In the early afternoon the first of a fresh series of provocations took place between the rival floors, setting in motion again the dormant machinery of disruption and hostility.

As the text indicates, there had been an unpleasant incident that precipitated this "fresh series of provocations," but the reason I mark this as the uptick is that it illustrates the beginning of sustained conflict amongst the floors. As a person whose had neighborly discord (concerning loud music at 3 AM and strangers drinking in my driveway), it's been my experience that this stuff is dealt with fairly benignly. You have a chat and that's about it, because most of us (most of us) don't want to live in the constant state of paranoia and one-upsmanship that mark the battles we have over those living near us.

Ballard's text neatly captures the feelings of communal discord and shows just how trivial they are. The diction here trends toward complexity, but it's very sharp and consistent. And one of the things I'm constantly asking myself about the writing is, "So what?" You have to ask yourself that every day and then answer it by showing your audience something new. The mantra becomes: "Keep it moving. Keep the pace up."

Think about the story you're writing. Where does the rising action begin? Whether it's flash fiction or a great tome, this is central to how your audience will engage with your work.

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